Passionate about street photography? Then know that the decisive moment is not all there is to it. Wandering the streets with a camera can be awkward and risky if you don’t know what and how you are allowed to shoot.
But if you know the laws, you will be more at ease. And being at ease means what? Right, cooler photographs!
“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa
But how close can you get for the perfect picture? As a street photographer, you should understand that your aesthetic urges might clash with someone’s right to privacy. And the line is very thin and ambiguous at times. Below is your guide to the laws regulating street photography. Knowing those for you would mean avoiding trouble and getting better at your art!
Rights to Privacy: Public Spaces
If you are a street photographer, public spaces will be your primary habitat. Here very few laws will limit your artistic freedom. To clarify things a bit, the term public space refers to locations easily accessible to the public, such as streets, parks, and sidewalks to name a few. In New-York, for example, the subway is also on the list.
However, you might wonder about instances when the space dividing public and private property is very thin. You can photograph objects and people that are on private property but in public view. Someone having coffee at a sidewalk cafe can become your photo target. But going to the extremes is not advised. Meaning getting too close, annoying and disturbing others around you.
You can photograph anyone in public spaces, passersby, children, officials. But when it comes to street photography, laws are not the only thing that should restrain you. In-your-face attitude is not the best approach. Treat people with a smile and don’t be aggressive. Hanging around a child for fifteen minutes because you cannot get the perfect shot will make you look like a stalker.
Even though government buildings or military bases can be seen from public spaces, photographing those could be seen as a threat to national security. So, you better to ask for permission first.
Now you are more aware of how you should behave in public spaces. Photographing private property from public space is okay, but what to do when you find yourself on private property? You might even wonder how exactly are you supposed to make the public vs. private distinction. In fact, you have all the ground to be puzzled. Some places like shopping malls or museums can seem public but are not. It is not that you have to know the status of each and every institution. Instead, it is always a good idea to check on the spot. You can either do research or/and clarify it with the security guard or another employee. If you are asked not to shoot on private property, kindly obey the request.
Some places like shopping malls or museums can seem public but are not. It is not that you have to know the status of each and every institution. Instead, it is always a good idea to check on the spot. You can either do research or/and clarify it with the security guard or another employee. If you are asked not to shoot on private property, kindly obey the request.
Distribution Rights for Street Photography
Selling or exhibiting your work is a huge milestone for your career as a photographer. And you have to be ready for it in legal terms as well. As someone with street photography skills news agencies might be very interested in your work. If the photograph was made in public space, it is a fair game. You can use it for your promotion by posting it on social media and including it in your portfolio. However, if you are planning on using it for commercial purposes, a model release form will be necessary. If you cannot obtain those, any commercial distribution of your work will be illegal.
You can also use if for your promotion by posting it on social media and including in your portfolio. However, if you are planning on using it for commercial purposes, a model release form will be necessary. If you cannot obtain it, any commercial distribution of your work will be illegal.
Even if everything you do is legal, it can still piss somebody off. A passerby might not know about street photography regulations and aggressively ask you delete their picture. In the worst cases, someone might even try to take your camera by force. Do not panic. Simply always bear in mind your guide to handling such encounters. Here, we have it for you!
- Stay calm and polite. If someone is a bully, avoid playing their game. If you become aggressive it is easier for you to look guilty when you actually aren’t.
- Call the police if you feel like things are going out of control.
- Take legal action if someone threatens you and uses force against you.
- Stay confident. If you know that everything you have done is legal, let the person know you are all confident and sure about it without being cocky.
- Give explanations. Explain the person who you are, why are you taking the photographs and the rights you are entitled to.
- You can refuse to delete pictures. People will ask you to do it all the time. But that is more of a personal decision for you because no one can force you to.
If the guide above seems too dire, below are some tips to ease the tension with a smile and a couple of flattering words.
- Exchange contact information. Someone might be just curious and approach you for a chit-chat. If you took their photograph, offer to email a copy. Or give them your contact information, to appear more authoritative and less suspicious.
- Compliment them. Let them know why you chose them as your subject. Is it their hairstyle or the smile? Let them know about it nicely. It will make them feel special.
However, in the end, street photography is about trusting your guts. Be attentive not only to the fleeting moments you wish to capture but also to the circumstances and potential risks. Know your rights, respect your subjects, resolve confrontations politely. And finally, be confident and smile!